Thursday, February 26, 2015

All-New X-Men #36 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It was clear from the start of this issue that Bendis had to wrap up the original X-Men's excursion to the Ultimate Universe fairly quickly, since the kids have already returned to "our" Earth and headed into outer space to join Kitty for the "Black Vortex" saga.  He actually manages to do it pretty well, though he makes the X-Men a little luckier than they normally are to get there.

First, the X-Men are lucky that Carmen Cruise -- the mutant who threw them into the Ultimate Universe in the first place -- happens to return to said Universe every time she tries to "jump" to "our" Universe to get home.  They're also lucky that Carmen doesn't totally panic when they approach her; after all, the whole reason that they're in this mess is that she panicked the first time that they approached her.  In the end, Ultimate Jean is miraculously able to find the right synaptic sequence (or something) to reverse engineer the original jump and send the original X-Men "home."

But, luck aside, it's still a pretty strong issue.  I wish that we would've gotten a little bit more time to see the teams say good-bye, particularly to explore how painful it must be for the Ultimate team to lose Warren again.  But, at least we get a decent good-bye from Jean to Miles, so beggars can't be choosers.  In the hands of someone else, this issue could've been a plane crashing into the runway, but Bendis managed to hit the landing, even if it was rough one.  (OK, I'm done with the metaphors.)  I wasn't the biggest fan of this arc, but I'll admit that it got better when the two teams started interacting last issue.  I almost hope that we see the two teams meet again...

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Amazing Spider-Man #14 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Well, that was...anti-climactic.

The Inheritors begin performing the ritual in this issue, but it's such chaos that I still have no idea what it was supposed to do.  By bleeding Kaine onto the web, the Other apparently won't be able to select a new totem.  Does that mean, if Kaine survives*, he'll no longer be cursed as the Other?  When the Spiders interrupt the ritual, Cindy says that the web is healing, but I'm not sure if she just means her part of the web or Kaine's part as well.  Speaking of Cindy, by bleeding her onto the web, no Spider-Totem will now appear by chance.  But, how many Spiders actually appear by chance?  After all, it seemed like chance that Peter got bit by that radioactive spider, but previous storylines involving the Inheritors and the Other have implied that he was destined for it.  What's destiny and what's chance?  Plus, why bother with chance when, by bleeding Benjamin, they would've eliminated all Spider-Totems all together.  Doesn't that cover the ones created by chance?  Why not just start there?  But, it all doesn't matter, because Otto literally cuts to the point and just kills the Master Weaver.  We're apparently all supposed to be aghast, since the Weaver is "the web of life and destiny."  Morlun acts as if time and space are going to collapse into itself, but...nothing actually happens.  Other than Peter's moral issues with his actions, it seems like Otto really did save the day here.

Beyond the confusion over the ritual, the problem with this issue is that the Inheritors suddenly become easily defeatable.  When Morlun first fought Spider-Man, he just kept coming after Spidey until Peter collapses from exhaustion after hours and hours of fighting him.  Here, they just sort of shrug and surrender when they can't complete the ritual.  Seriously.  Karn appears, and he and the other Spiders apparently defeat the weird unnamed Sister and the Twins off-panel.  Despite Slott building to this moment for months, we miss the actual fight.  We at least see Spider-Voltron engage Jennix, though all he actually does is grab him; we have to assume that they actually fight.  Daemos just folds when May threatens to destroying the crystal that contains Solus' spirit.  (Also, what the hell was that?  We've never seen anything showing the Inheritors putting their souls in crystals.)  In the end, the Spiders just dump the Inheritors on the irradiated Earth, hoping, I guess, that they all just stay locked in that bunker.  But, if Jennix is such a genius, isn't it possible that he'll invent a way to protect them from radiation?  Speaking of radiation, wasn't the Spider-Voltron supposed to have radiation as one of his power sets?  Is that how he stopped Jennix?

Looking over the story overall, I still have no idea why the Inheritors started on this latest killing spree.  It started when they became aware of Cindy, and I think that it's because it was the only time that the Bride, Other, and Scion all existed at the same time.  But, that's still not clear to me.  I assume in the epilogue that we're going to see the fates of the other Spiders, including the ones that have been killed.  We definitely need to see what happens with Otto, given that he essentially knows that Peter defeats him.  But, after all, he's always known that, since we've already accounted for his missing time in the main series.  I have no idea how Slott is going to reconcile that, but he better.

Look, I'm not saying that this event was terrible.  Slott is a victim of his own success, since "Spider-Island" was one of the greatest cross-over events of all time.  But, it's really hard to say that it even came close to meeting expectations.  We didn't gain any new insights into Peter or watch him defy unbelievable odds.  In fact, he barely played a role in this whole event.  He's just going to go to bed, wake up tomorrow, and hope "Secret Wars" doesn't wipe out his sexy time with Silk.  It's hard to see it as a win.

* In a great example of pet peeve #1, we learn that Morlun theoretically killed Kaine last issue.  Although it was clear that Kaine was wounded last issue, it wasn't clear that he was dead.  It reminds me of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #12 where I was surprised to learn from the title page that Scott had killed Professor X in issue #11.

Earth 2: World's End #19 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

To be honest, it's starting to feel like we're stalling.

It's not like nothing happens this issue.  Jimmy fails to land Fury, Mr. Miracle, Mr. Terrific, and Sandman on Sloan's ship, forcing them to leap through space to it.  Batman and the Huntress start their search for Ollie Queen, but have to make their way into Sloan's inner sanctum to get his location.  The Green Lantern fails to hold off Apocalypse's spawn as he makes his way to Earth's core, and Dick searches for his son.

But, none of those events actually accomplish anything.  Constantine's minions are hiding Dick's son from him for some reason, so he doesn't find him.  (Unless he's some sort of messiah capable of resurrecting Earth 2, I'm not really sure why we're introducing a new twist at this point.)  The rest of the teams -- the Green and Green Lantern, Sato and Steel, and Batman and the Huntress -- are forced to just watch helplessly while the terraformers get to work, preparing earth 2 for destruction.  We're no better or worse than we were last issue.

Hopefully, next issue, something actually happens.

** (two of five stars)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Batman Eternal #45 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Oh, Jesus effing Christ.  R'as al Ghul?  Really?

It's pretty clear that R'as isn't the mastermind.  I can't exactly tell you why he isn't, but he isn't.  His introduction here feels the same as the Riddler's, with Snyder and Tynion simply showing us that someone that we'd suspect to be the mastermind isn't, actually, the mastermind.  The problem with R'as' role in this story is that it's connected to one of the more ludicrous turns of events in this series, namely Bruce's loss of control over Wayne Enterprises.

I haven't really talked about the fall of Wayne Enterprises here, since, usually, we have such bigger fish to fry.  Of all the gimmicky moments in this series, it was definitely one of the more gimmicky ones.  Snyder and Tynion try to explain it here, arguing that, yes, it was extraordinary, but that proves that only someone as crafty as R'as al Ghul could've done it.  But, it really does defy belief that anyone, even R'as al Ghul, could do it.  Wayne Enterprises is a publicly traded company; R'as couldn't just snatch up its constituent parts without someone noticing.  It's not like Alfred runs the company from the cave while Bruce sleeps.  They've got to have an accountant somewhere.  But, it just further Snyder's central thesis, that Batman is actually a raging idiot, since the guy can't even keep control over his own company.  Moreover, it's pretty clear that it's going to be ret-conned at some point.  After all, Bruce depends on that money to be Batman, the same way that Tony Stark needs his money to be Iron Man.  Sure, authors can spend a few issues exploring the idea of them disconnected from their wealth and rising to that challenge, but, ultimately, it's existentially necessary for their alter egos.  Since it's clear that R'as isn't the mastermind, he's essentially been reduced to little more than a nefarious accountant at this point.  I'm not really sure why we're supposed to consider him a serious threat.  But, it looks like we'll spend at least next issue pretending.

Moreover, this issue just randomly dispatches the supernatural aspects of the series by explaining that Dr. Milo was merely a pawn of Blackfire.  As a result, I'm still not really sure why we re-introduced this aspect of the story in issues #44 and #45, since it didn't further our understanding of the events that occurred under Arkham.  It's not like we even get any real character development, since Luke just shrugs off Jim's apology for abandoning him under Arkham and Bruce makes a half-hearted comment about feeling bad about sending Luke to handle Arkham in the first place.  I'm not really sure what the authors meant here.

Seven more issues.  Only seven more issues.

** (two of five stars)

Star Wars #2 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's hard to explain just how amazing of a job Aaron does in capturing the essence of these characters.  I doubt anyone reading these issues doesn't hear the dialogue in the voices of the actors from the original trilogy.  As I said last issue, it really does feel like you're somehow watching a long-lost sequel to "Star Wars."

But, Aaron doesn't make it just be about everyone sounding like they should.  The interesting development here isn't Han's struggle with temperamental technology, but Luke's confrontation with a dominant Vader.  Not surprisingly, Vader pwns him; Luke can't even keep his hands on his lightsaber. I'll admit, the purist in me rankled a bit at this exchange.  It felt like it cheapened their confrontation at the end of "Empire Strikes Back," since it's no longer the first time that they face each other.  But, Aaron knows that he's going to have to confront that sentiment with every story that he tells, and he just continues telling his story unapologetically.  As a result, I eventually saw the point that he was making

First, he reminds us that Luke had no training at this point.  Sure, Obi-wan had given him the lightsaber, but they only ran a few drills together in the Millennium Falcon before Vader killed him.  If you think about it, it makes no sense that a totally green Luke Skywalker could just waltz into a fight with a Sith Lord and do as well as he does at the end of "Empire Strikes Back."  Sure, he gets his ass handed to him in the end, but the fact that he gives a good fight for a while shows some skill.  By showing us Luke without that skill in these scenes, Aaron reminds us that the story that we're "watching" in this series is these characters getting the experience that they need to engage in the fights that they have in "Empire Strikes Back."  We're indirectly asked to take that experience on faith in the movie, but, here, we're actually getting the details. We now understand why Luke is ready to confront Vader in "Empire Strikes Back:"  he'd already faced him, at least once.  He knows that he's now better prepared than he was the first time that they met, so he approaches it with something close to calm, a calm that he clearly doesn't have here.

But, let's face it, even if the plot is great, we're all really here to spend time with these characters.  Aaron knows that, and, man, he delivers.  He reminds us how evil Vader is at this point, casually telling Luke that he's murdered a lot of fathers when Luke accuses him of murdering his own father.  Han and Leia bicker,and Han expresses jealously when Leia announces her desire to kiss Artoo after he successfully fixes the At-At Walker's cannon system, saving them from Vader.  Threepio dithers.  Again, they all sound exactly like they're supposed to sound and do exactly what they're supposed to do.  In other words, really, these issues are as much fun as I remember ever having reading comics.  I just hope that it continues.

***** (five of five stars)

Miracleman #15 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is it, the gore-a-rama, as Kid Miracleman destroys London.  Many thoughts.

Totleben's art reminds me of a graphic depiction of Buddhist Hell that I once saw painted on a temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, full of men roasting on spits and people burning in perpetuity.  In other words, it definitely conveys the sense that Johnny brought Hell to Earth.  While reading the story, I couldn't but help to think about how the series "Irredeemable" is  really a more detailed exploration of the themes that Moore explores here.  It actually says something about our tastes that Krause never gives us the same scale of gore in his depiction of the Plutonian's destruction of the fictional Sky City, but Totleben pulls no punches 25 years or so earlier in showing a real city destroyed.

The comparison with the Plutonian doesn't end with the awfulness of his crimes.  Miracleman is reminiscent of the pre-snapped Plutonian, since Bates' rampage occurs during a brief moment when Miracleman is off-world.  The Plutonian was in part driven insane when he fled to the Moon for some peace and quiet and a tragedy that he could've prevented happened in his absence.  It definitely raises questions about Miracleman's stability in the coming issues.  We discover in this issue that Miracleman two years down the line is forced to constantly busy himself to prevent himself from thinking of this day and we've already seen him appear more aloof (referring to himself as a god) in recent issues.  Are we just watching a slower descent into madness than the Plutonian suffered?  

Moore also gives us hints of a world shaken to its core more than the one that suffered the onslaught of the Plutonian.  Moore reveals that this announcement of the arrival of super-humans basically sweeps away the old gods, with Miracleman and Miraclewoman taking their place.  For me, the most interesting question there is how Earth could possibly come to trust them.  Maybe the answer is that Earth doesn't come to trust them; it comes to fear them, in the way that they feared the old gods, even the benevolent ones.  Here, Moore is really taking the superhero tale to the logical conclusion that mainstream comic books generally avoid:  if we really lived in a world with beings with this sort of power, it's hard to see us going about our daily lives like we did before they arrived.  How could you not believe that Miracleman or Kid Miracleman wasn't some form of god, seeing what the world saw happen in London?

Perhaps the saddest part of this issue, though, is Miracleman clutching Johnny Bates' cold body.  It's sad not only because he's forced to murder Johnny to "kill" Kid Miracleman, but Bates' pants are still wrapped around his ankles, a reminder that the last time that we saw him he was being raped.  It's here where Totleben pulls no punches, reminding us what a tragic figure young Johnny Bates is.  It's the one human moment in this entire issue, allowing us to understand the scale of the tragedy that befell London.  It also seems to be the last human moment for Miracleman, as he weeps over the obvious end of the innocence that he once enjoyed.

I'm intrigued to see where we go from here.

*** (three of five stars)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hawkeye #21 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Man, I used to love this series so much.  It was about the stuff that Hawkeye did when he wasn't an Avenger, and it was amazing.  Now?  Now, I don't know what it is.

At this point -- after a dozen or so non-sequitur issues with gaps of months between issues -- I'm not really sure what story Fraction is telling.  Sana has the sort of disclaimer that she has to include in the letters page, about the best things taking time, but it's weak at best.  It's hard to care about this issue because it just feels like Fraction and Aja didn't care about it.  Did they just get sucked into one or two "Law & Order:  SVU" marathons too many?  I'm guessing that we'll never get an answer to that question.

Unfortunately, we don't get answers to many questions in this issue.  We never got an answer to how Clint and Barney survived the last time that they were seemingly killed, so it's hard to know if we're supposed to believe that Barney is dead (again) at the end of the issue.  I had to re-read my blog posts to remember that the track-suit mafia wants the building to build a real-estate development, and I found myself wondering why Clint just doesn't use his money to buy a new building for everyone, since it would endanger their lives a lot less.  We never learned how Barney came to be in a loving relationship with Clint's neighbor, so we don't understand why Clint is inspired to try to make it work with Jessica again.  (We also don't learn why Jessica would be willing to try again.  I would've just taken her commenting how he's good in bed and she misses that.)  I still really don't know who the Clown is and I don't understand why his mother has been living in the building unnoticed by anyone.  In other words, I don't understand a lot, and I don't understand this issue.

The worst part is that I know that everyone is going to love this issue.  After I post this review, I'm going to go to Comic Book Round-Up and see that everyone else has given it ten stars, calling it "amazing" and "brilliant."  I will again wonder, as I have the last few issues, if I'm missing something.  I'll wonder why everyone else seems to have no problem either understanding the plot or not caring that they don't understand it.  I'll wonder if I should just read all 21 issues again, in order, to see if it finally makes sense.  But, then I wonder if my time just isn't better served watching a "Law & Order:  SVU" marathon, and I move onto the next comic.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy & X-Men: The Black Vortex Alpha #1 (HERE BESPOILERS!)

Humphries covers a really amazing amount of ground in this issue, hitting everything from the history of the Black Vortex to why the Guardians and the X-Men came together in the first place.

First, let me get my complaints on the table, because they're fairly minor.  Bendis is obviously going to have to resolve, in fairly short order, how the original X-Men go from lost in the Ultimate Universe to holding classes in outer space with Professor Kitty.  Bendis actually has two issues of "All-New X-Men" left to tell that story before it has its first cross-over issue (in issue #38), but it's still weird to see them here given where they are in their own book at the moment.  Moreover, I have to say that I was really disappointed with the art.  Some of it is beautiful, like the scenes on Viscardi.  Some of it, however, is just horribly rushed.  I'm not Anka's biggest fan, but it's not entirely his fault.  He and McGuinness have very different styles, and the transition between the two of them is jarring, to say the least.  The number of inkers doesn't help matters, given us a larger number of combinations than advisable if you're trying to keep a consistent art style.    (That said, Rocket riding Lockheed is pretty much the greatest thing to happen in comics ever.)

Now, let's get to the good.  Humphries uses flashbacks to the creation of the Black Vortex to great effect, showing how a Celestial created it at the request of a frustrated young Viscardi, named Gara, who hoped that her species would one day reach the stars.  It seems clear that, when one submits to the Vortex, one becomes an idealized form on oneself.  However, we learn that this version comes with incredible darkness, obvious from the destruction that occurs on Viscardi after Gara submits to the Vortex.  It raises some interesting questions about the impact that it's going to have on Gamora, as she submits here to the Vortex for the power to fight off the Slaughter Lords (as the Squad is now called after getting their own Vortex-induced upgrades).  Humphries doesn't answer why the Celestial granted this boon to Gara or if he knew that it would corrupt as completely as it clearly does.  I hope that we get those answers in this event, since it really lies at the heart of the story.

In the present, Humphries picks up where we last saw Kitty and Peter, in "Legendary Star-Lord" #9, as they go about trying to steal the Black Vortex from J'Son.  They successfully do so, but no longer for a lark:  they overheard enough of J'Son's attempt to get Thane to submit to the Vortex to realize that it's dangerous.  I'll note that we still don't know much about J'Son's plan; for example, we don't know what this "one job" that J'Son wants Thane to do for him is.  But, it's enough to freak out Kitty and Peter, causing them to call for help from their respective teams.  They also call in Hank to take a look at the Vortex, and Storm comes for the ride (and conveniently becomes the one to realize the Vortex's evil when she sees a reflection of herself as a goddess that goes Phoenix on a planet).  At this point, the plan seems to play keep-away with the Lords, but I'm sure it'll get more complicated as we go.

In other words, Humphries establishes the threat, gets all the players on the same board, and maps out the initial phase of the story.  Away we go!

*** (three of five stars)

Grayson #7 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, Seeley lost me here.

Helena has Spyral upload the information that she obtained from the guy that she "interrogated" last issue to the Hypnos implant that Midnighter stole from Dick, convincing him to come to Tel Aviv and help her stop the Fist of Cain from using the Paragon brain to incite violence.  I get that part.  She knew to upload the information to Midnighter because she had Spyral replay the last five minutes of Dick's Hypnos' recording, revealing that Midnighter possessed it.  I also get that part, though it did make me raise an eyebrow.  Does Dick know that Hypnos records everything he does?  If so, how does he get around it to talk to Bruce?  If not, it's clearly trouble for exactly that reason.  I'm also still not sure how Midnighter stole the implant in the first place.

It's the part with the Gardner that left me feeling like I had missed an issue.  Dick convinces the Gardner to release him to help, talking about Bruce and his surrogate family catching him when he fell.  Although it's touching, I have no idea why he had to convince the Gardner to release him in the first place.  I thought that the Gardner kidnapped him last issue to help her fend off some sort of attackers coming for the Garden.  But, here, we learn that she kidnapped him to let the Fist of Cain succeed, so that the riots in Tel Aviv will convince people to end the "artificial superhuman arms race" that she has fought for years.  Really?  Dick implies that she was created for some other purpose than the one that she currently serves, but I don't understand how he knows anything about her when we still know nothing about her.  Didn't he just meet her last issue?  He refers to some sort of room on the Garden that she used to save people, but we've never seen it.  It just all makes little sense.  I feel like it's playing off developments from another series; if that's the case, it would've been nice to get an editor's note or something to tell us that.

Separately, the mystery surrounding Director Minos also deepens in this issue.  He seemingly saves Helena from the guy who ran the Fist (at least, I think that it's him), but then, at the end of the issue, it appears that he might have a number of clones.  I honestly don't know what we're supposed to think.  If this issue had flowed better, I might be able to care, but instead it just seemed to add to the general chaos.

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Earth 2: World's End #18 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Despite the fact that things seemed to be getting better last issue, everything goes from bad to worse in this one.

First, it seems a foregone conclusion that Earth 2 is going to be destroyed.  Steel comments on continued seismic instability, and Darkseid has sent a "terraformer" to Earth 2 now that its firepits are aligned with Apokolips'.  It doesn't sound good.  To be honest, I'm a little confused by this last development.  I thought that the firepits went cold, as Jimmy himself confirms here, once the Geneva team freed the Red Lantern in issue #16, since it seemed that she was the one fueling them.  I think the authors are revealing that, secretly, someone (Desaad?) was aligning them to Apokolips, so they no longer need the Red Lantern to fuel them.  However, no one actually says that; it's just my guess.

If Earth 2 is, indeed, destroyed, it seems clear that Mr. Terrific is going to "lens" the population to the spaceship that Jimmy Olsen discovered.  We see him working on the technology here by studying Fury's powers.  I'm still not sure whether all Apokoliptans have this power to open these portals, but it seems to only matter that Fury does.  I'm also not really sure how they work, but I think I'm supposed just take that they do work on faith.  If we didn't already know the outcome of that evacuation, it might be tense, since it seems like a ship full of the remainder of Earth's population would be a ripe target for a defeated Darkseid to try to destroy.  But, if that eventuality does present itself, we know, thanks to "The New 52!:  Futures End," that they make it to "our" Earth, undermining some of the tension.

The new development in this issue is the revelation that Bruce wanted Helena to go find Ollie Queen in case there was "trouble."  Jimmy conveniently found this information somewhere, though we're not told where.  We're also not told what Ollie has that could help or what trouble Bruce had in mind.  Also, if Ollie can help, shouldn't he have, I don't know, offered to do so as he saw the world crumbling around him?  But, we're not really supposed to question deus ex machinas, are we?

Looking at the broader story that the authors are telling, I realized that I still don't know why Apokolips wants Earth and what he plans to do with it if he gets it.  I keep assuming that he wants to go full-on Galactus and destroy it for raw materials, but maybe it's something else?  Is he going to turn it into the new Apokolips?  Someone should probably clarify that at some point, since we've spent roughly 30 issues of the main series and this one on this story.

** (two of five stars)

Earth 2 #31 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Instead of the stand-alone tales that we've had for the last few issues, where the authors have been telling us the back stories of some of the newer players in the series, Wilson, Bennett, and Johnson tell two stories from the margins of the events taking place in "Earth 2:  World's End."  Unfortunately, they do little to amplify our understanding of the ongoing events.

First, the Dr. Fate tale is so rushed that it makes little sense.  Nabu sends himself and Khalid to Apokalips, to raid the Hall of Lore, where Darkseid keeps his treasures.  However, Nabu is tricked into leaving Khalid for some sort of chained Apokoliptan sorcerer.  At least, I think it was a trick.  One minute, he seems to be a prisoner of the keeper of the Hall of Lore; the next minute, he appears to have colluded with the keeper to scam Nabu.  It's all unclear.  Then, despite the fact that said sorcerer is so powerful that he can dominate Nabu, Khalid casts a simple spell that severs his head, killing him and freeing Nabu.  I guess he wasn't so fearsome in the first place?  Finally, instead of stealing some of the treasures that might help in the fight against Apokolips, as I thought was the plan, Dr. Fate just destroys the Hall of Lore because he's mad?  Maybe?  Man, this story did not make sense.

Second, we have Marella in Atlantis doing...something.  She fights off some zombie Atlanteans, and she declares war on the surface world...I think.  This part was...you guess it...really unclear.  First, before I dive into the story, I was confused by the portrayal of her warriors:  they aren't humanoid (as Marella is), but appear more like Mer-Man from "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe."  I'm not sure if they're a different race than Marella or if their genetic structure was altered by the Fury with the same spell that rose the dead Atlanteans, but I definitely felt like I was missing something.  Second, in terms of the story, I get why she's mad; we learn that the firepits are burning off Earth 2's water.  But, I don't get how fighting with the surface world while Apokolips is invading is going to help.  Does she really think that Darkseid would just let her keep the oceans?  Also, her plan seems to be to steal all the moisture in the Earth's atmosphere to replenish the oceans, but is that enough?  Does that process happen naturally through the water cycle?  And, again, none of it will matter if Darkseid destroys the planet for raw materials for Apokolips.  Shouldn't she be taking the fight to him, save the planet, and then worry about the oceans?  First things first, Marella.

In other words, oy.  I would've rathered a look at what Dick Grayson is doing than the two half-assed stories that we get here.

* (one of five stars)

Detective Comics #39 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Curiouser and curiouser.  (Sorry, I just had to start that way.)  We've got two, maybe three, legs of the stool, but we don't yet have a seat.  If I had to guess (though I don't necessarily think that I'm right), Anarky was raised at the same orphanage where Jervis was the groundskeeper and he had some connection to the Alice that Jervis murdered.

However, this theory has some flaws.  First, I say that Jervis was the groundskeeper because he's holding a rake in the group photo.  However, it doesn't make a ton of sense to me that a technology wizard like Jervis would be a simple groundskeeper at an orphanage.  Second, Jervis initially calls Anarky "Alice" when he meets him; he also later comments that he's surrounded by "Alices" when Anarky and his masked cronies escort him to a vehicle to take him somewhere so that he can be made "accountable for what [he] did."  The mask clearly makes Jervis think of Alice, so I'm less clear that "Alice" is a specific person.  I'm pretty sure in issue #37 that Batman said that Jervis killed "Alice," leading me to believe that she was an actual person.  But, it's possible that Jervis did terrible things to all the children of the orphanage (including Anarky) and he made them wear these masks while doing it.  I guess we'll see.

Manallato makes it clear that they're continuing threads of the story that they first sewed into the "Icarus" arc.  It requires you to be really paying attention.  I had to re-read issues #33 and #38 to be reminded that Lester first fingered Young as an accomplice in issue #3 and that the photos that Harvey showed Young in issue #38 came from the suitcase that he found in Lester's office.  One question I do have, though, is why would Harvey withhold the photos from the evidence box?  I mean, it wound up being a correct hunch, given that the suitcase that Young gave Lester went missing from it.  But, if he already had the hunch to keep the photos, then why didn't he keep the suitcase from the box as well?  Also, I feel like we're dealing with different time frames of the disappearances.  The bodies that Batman found in the river had decomposed to skeletons, but it feels like Bullock, at least initially, believed the kids might still be alive.  At any rate, we still don't know who these kids are.

Young is also still a mystery.  We've got some hints that he may be Anarky; after all, we know from issue #38 that he was raised in the foster-care system.  In fact, in the first draft of this post, I said as much.  But, I'm not so sure.  If he were Anarky, why would he leave behind the suitcase that seemed to confirm Bullock's suspicion of him?  He would've known that Lester had it, since he's the one that gave it to him.  It still leaves open Young's connection to the case.  The photos seem to prove a connection, to Batman's mind, that Jervis and Lester are connected, but we still don't know where Young fits into that picture.

The only weak part of this story was Batman miraculous finding "Blue House" based on its appearance in the background of photos taken of the victims.  I mean, really, how did he find it?  Does he have some sort of "creepy houses" database arrange by color?  (He probably totally has that.)

*** (three of five stars)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Batman Eternal #44 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue has an usually narrow focus for this series.  Bluebird tries to stop Spolier's attempt to escape.  Some former Arkham prisoners finger a "Professor Milo" as responsible for its "transformation," if you will, of Arkham.  Bats stops Milo from fleeing Gotham, but then some spirits attack him, promising "the truth."

Even with these limited events, Snyder and Tynion manage not to give us all the information that we need to understand them.  For example, we never learn how the prisoners knew that Milo was involved.  It seems weird that he would've been so obvious in helping whoever it was that he helped; after all, he was endangering the prisoners' lives, and they're not exactly the sort of people to take that lightly.  Moreover, Milo claims that he combined his science with the mastermind's magic to do whatever it was that they did to Arkham, but it's unclear how that worked exactly.  Was it all just elaborate hallucinations?  If everyone was just hallucinating, what actually took down Arkham?

We've never really spent a lot of time on the Arkham sub-plot, so I can't say that I really understand where Snyder and Tynion are going with this one.  I guess we'll see next issue when we, allegedly, learn "the truth."

** (two of five stars)

Uncanny X-Men #30 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I really want to like this issue.

After all, the focus turns from Scott to the other characters, and it's more interesting for it.  Charles and Eva have a conversation that goes pretty much exactly how I'd expect it to go, with Charles expressing frustration over Eva suddenly appearing to him and altering the course of his life and Eva telling him to get over himself and help her find a way to stop Matthew.  (I loved Eva's comment, "Oh, this is the other Charles Xavier I've heard about.  The one that teaches one thing but says 'the hell with it' when it's convenient."  BURN!)  Moreover, we see Matthew start to unravel as he begins to understand that his life will never be the same.  Bachalo has a brilliant moment here where he has Matthew talk to Cyclops' skull like he were Hamlet addressing Yorrick's skull; it's truly amazing.  Combined, Bendis and Bachalo convey the sense that everything is spiraling into chaos, and it actually starts to be interesting for the first time, because you truly begin to wonder how insane it's going to get.

I mean, you would wonder that if it wasn't so clear that we were going to ret-con it almost immediately.

I'm not even calling for it never to be ret-conned.  Sure, bring back Emma, Magik, and Scott at some point a year or two from now.  But, let us go a few dozen issues thinking that maybe, just maybe, Bendis did kill them.  Let us go a few issues thinking that the way that Charles Xavier returns to the world isn't through the resurrection that we all know is coming, but by getting pulled from the past by Eva.  Let us believe it.  Bendis even hints that he might let Cyclops, Emma, and Magik stay dead, since Matthew's conversation with Scott is all about the fact that he can't resurrect him.  But, it's clear that it's not going to go that way.  Maybe it'll be as simple as Eva plucking them from the timeline a minute before they died.  But, it'll be something like that.

But, that's just the problem with Eva right now, isn't it?  In her story in the "All-New X-Men" and "Uncanny X-Men" annuals, she lost her family because she traveled into the past, erasing her future.  In other words, time travel had actually consequences, implying that she had to learn not to use her power in that way.  But, that approach, as my review of those issues show, didn't even last those two issues, let alone this one.  After all, using that logic, why did her present not get erased when she traveled in the past to get Charles?  How is it any different?  If Eva is now able to travel into the past at will, is there basically anything that she can't ret-con?

I've been dreading "Secret Wars," but, if it somehow managed to stop all the time-traveling, I'd actually accept whatever havoc it was going to wreck on my favorite characters.  At this point, it's just so overused.  Anytime a character dies, you just assume that time travel (or something akin to it) is going to be the way that they're resurrected.  If I actually believed that Emma, Magik, and Scott were going to stay dead, this arc would have me on the edge of my seat.  But, I don't, so it doesn't.

** (two of five stars)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Uncanny Avengers #1 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Seeing Acuna's art, I was immediately depressed, since I was reminded of how awesome this series was before "Avengers & X-Men:  Axis" sent us into an unfamiliar world where Remender suddenly became Chuck Austen.  Unfortunately, this issue doesn't really restore my faith in Remender's storytelling.

First, the team is odd.  Rogue and the Scarlet Witch are our only veterans from the first team; the absence of Havok, Steve Rogers, Thor, and Wolverine is a reminder of how much trauma the team has suffered.  The addition of Quicksilver and Vision certainly ups the drama component, given their tenuous relationships with Wanda; Sam checks off the necessary "Captain America" box.  Between the three of them, they round out the Avengers component pretty well.

The problem is with the remaining two characters.  Sabretooth is really the only other "X-Men" besides Rogue; Pietro and Wanda might be mutants, but they've never been X-Men.  He's only here because of his persistent inversion, an unwelcome sign that Remender has no intention of sweeping "Avengers & X-Men:  Axis" under the rug, as I'd hoped he would do.  I would've much rather have seen Shiro or someone actually recognizable as an X-Men.  After all, if the point of the team is to build trust with the world by showing that humans and mutants can work together, it seems odd to chose a guy who only a few days ago was a homicidal maniac.  Sure, Pietro, Rogue, and Wanda have all been villains, but they've also got years as heroes under their belt.  Sabretooth became a hero almost literally yesterday.  It's a bit of a stretch.  I don't even know what to say about Doctor Voodoo.  I have no idea why we've decided to embrace one of Bendis' more half-assed decisions when he was writing the Avengers books.  Voodoo has always been a poor fit for the team, and Remender makes it worse here by clearly struggling with his voice.  Couldn't we have brushed off Amanda Sefton or some other sorcerer connected to the X-Men?  Amanda Sefton and Sunfire would've sufficiently met the X-Men quotient; Doctor Voodoo and Sabretooth do not.

To make matters worse, the plot is bizarre.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate.  The plot itself is pretty straight-forward:  rattled from the revelation that Magneto isn't their father, the Twins seek out the High Evolutionary in his hiding place on Counter-Earth to get answers.  But, the execution is muddled.  Remender relies on the old trope of a botched teleportation to scatter the teammates throughout Counter-Earth.  I just gritted my teeth through the last three or four issues of "All-New X-Men" as the team has struggled to find each other; I'm not sure that I can do it again.

In other words, blech.  I'm not buying the team, and I'm not thrilled with the story.  It's not the greatest of starts.

** (two of five stars)


Thor #4 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Aaron does exactly what he has to do here, showing us Thor, now Odinson, accepting the new Thor's ascension.  It is both a heart-breaking and heart-warming tale, and it's really a marvel that Aaron got as much done in 22 pages as he does here.

First, the conflict between Odinson and Thor is great.  "Calm thyself down," indeed.  First, Thor is grieved to see Odinson in such obvious pain over the loss of Mjolnir, though she doesn't pull any punches (literally) in fighting for it.  As she says, the hammer called to her and she took it.  But, we also see that she does actually seem to know Odinson.  Is it Jane Forster returned?  Is it Captain Marvel?  The mystery abounds.  Both Freya and Odinson comment on the fact that seems familiar, so it seems more likely than not to be Jane.  (I actually know nothing about Jane, since I only started reading "Thor."  But, I'm intrigued to learn about her if she is, indeed, the new Thor.)

But, the conflict ends when Odinson sees how Mjolnir sings in Thor's hands.  He is convinced of her worthiness, even if he's devastated by it.  Moreover, Thor seems overwhelmed by the realization of the responsibilities that she carries now that Odinson has given her his blessing.  Odinson rediscovering his purpose in life and Thor learning the ropes as a god are clearly going to be the themes of this volume.  But, Aaron reminds us that they're not the only two with dogs in the fight.  I loved the relationship between Freya and Odinson here, from him telling her that he loved her all the more for defying his father in leading troops against the Frost Giants to the two of them seeming thrilled over the fact that Odin will be less than happy about Thor's ascension.  Odinson has always had such a strong supporting cast and, as a new reader, it's really a thrill to get to know them.

It's clear that the introduction has concluded and we're now moving into the stories that Aaron envisions for Thor.  She might have stopped the Frost Giants, but it's really Malekith stirring up trouble.  I trust Aaron to make it as dastardly as possible.

*** (three of five stars)

Secret Avengers #12 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Whereas we answered a lot of questions last issue, this issue puts a number of new ones on the table. I mean, it sort of does?  Maybe?  Mostly, it just sort of leaves me confused, so I'm assuming that the questions are there, even if I don't know what they are.

M.O.D.O.K. admits to planning on killing all the Secret Avengers, but stopped when he realized that he was in love with Maria Hill.  Snapper has kidnapped Jessica and Maria and, apparently, Kowloon.  (I could be wrong about Kowloon, but the fortress where he brings them looks like it, even if it's now in the middle of the Venezuela rain forest.)  He's also apparently kidnapped all sorts of artistic types, because he needs their imagination to defeat the "bullies."  This part is a little unclear.  Snapper clearly outmaneuvered M.O.D.O.K. at some point.  But, it's unclear if it was his plan all along to betray M.O.D.O.K. or if he only put it into place when he realized that M.O.D.O.K. had gone sweet on Maria.  It's also a little unclear (read:  VERY, VERY UNCLEAR) how he's going to harness all this "imagination" and weaponize it to take out the "bullies."  It is clear that he considers Maria and M.O.D.O.K. to be bullies and, honestly, it's hard to argue with him.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye, M.O.D.O.K., and Phil have returned to the Helicarrier to hatch a plan, though M.O.D.O.K. doesn't seem to be totally aware of Snapper's plan.  Either he sabotaged himself from knowing the details when he created an alternate personality after he realized that he loved Maria Hill or Snapper drugged him to make sure that he wasn't firing on all cylinders.  One or the other, I guess.  Either way, the remaining Secret Avengers seem to be in the dark.  In Tlon, Black Widow and Lady Bullseye are facing some monsters that may, or may not, be counterparts to the Secret Avengers.  It's -- you guessed it -- unclear.

I know by now that you've just got a wait an issue or two when Kot goes weird, because he usually makes it clear at some point.  Honestly, the issue does mostly flow (if a little abstractly), but it's clear that we really need to understand the nature of Tlon and the connection that it has to the denouement to fully appreciate what Kot is doing here.  Hopefully we'll get that in the remaining three issues.

*** (three of five stars)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Amazing X-Men #16 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is jam-packed with great moments.  My favorite one is Bobby commenting about how useless telepathy is, since everyone now seems to have "fire mental shields or something."  Truth, brother, truth.  Firestar appearing to let Crossbones take her hostage only to burn his hands by irradiating his gun and sword was a close second.  Storm wishing Logan was there to kill a lot of things for her and then blasting all said things with lighting was an obvious third.

However, the best part of the issue is actually the plot.  Yost sets up a tournament for the ruby as Cyttorak calls to potential hosts:  Crossbones, Jinn, Man-Killer, and Cain Marko himself.  (Someone from the Sahara Desert is also in that mix, though I don't think that we've seen him/her.)  Yost makes sure that Cain's presence in this race is heart-breaking:  we see him receive the call as he peacefully plants a field of flowers in Utah.  But, he's in it to win it, and I honestly don't know which one Yost (or, um, Cyttorak) is going to chose.

Yost really is making this series fell more and more like the old-school X-Men, with all the interpersonal drama that those stories had.  I hope he keeps it going and doesn't leave the series after a few issues as everyone seems to do now-at-days.  He's really starting to get a feel for the characters and how they interact as a team.  I'm even starting to like Rockslide, and that's saying a lot.

**** (four of five stars)

Spider-Man 2099 #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

*** (three of five stars)

Favorite Quote:  "You know 'sinestry' isn't a word, right?  Just so we're clear."  "Yes, it is!"  "Is not!"  -- Lady Spider skoolin' Doc Ock on the grammerz

Summary
Miguel and May reel from the scene of death and destruction that greets them upon arrival at the "Safe Zone."  Miguel wonders to himself if he and May are the last of the Spiders and whether they're essentially just waiting for the Inheritors to kill them.  He's distracted from his reverie when he hears May vomiting.  She apologizes for being unprofessional, and a shocked Miguel reminds her that they're all unprofessional, since it's not like any of them gets paid for doing what they do.  They embrace as May asks if they're going to die and Miguel tells her, 'Yes.  But not today."  Miguel then notices the destroyed Spider-Voltron (from "Amazing Spider-Man" #13).  May suggests that they fix it, but Miguel reminds her that they can't return to 2099 with Daemos wandering around the place.  May tells him that she knows of a laboratory, cueing a flashback sequence.

On her Earth (Earth-803), May is having coffee with Lord "Harold" Osborn, and he tells her about his father's laboratory, dubbed the Stadium.  He says that it's gigantic and then asks May why she's inquiring about it. She asks him if he knows of Lady Spider, and he says that he does, reminding her that she "interceded" at May's party and stopped the Mayor's kidnapping.  May tells him that she was there because she's a friend and that she has need of the Stadium.  May says that the deal would require absolute secrecy, though Harold says that he'd have to ask his father.  In exchange for Harold getting her access, May agrees to go to dinner with him.  Later, Harold's father agrees to help, commenting, "How can we turn down the needs of such a brave woman?"  Of course, his father is the Goblin, though Harold is unaware of that.

In the present, May opens a portal into Earth-803 and they begin transporting the robot piece by piece.  Miguel wishes he were more of a technician than a biologist, and May reminds him that he has her.  Elsewhere on Earth-803, the Goblin calls his "fellows" to schedule a "visit" to Lady Spider in the Stadium.  Meanwhile, Miguel reviews May's schematics and suggests adding in radiation, noting that his autopsy of Daemos revealed that the Inheritors are especially vulnerable to it.  He asks if anyone in 1895 has it, and May says that she's just heard rumors.  At that moment, Peter calls (as seen in "Amazing Spider-Man" #13) telling Miguel and May to join the rest of the Spiders on Loomworld.  They're interrupted by Harold, who marvels at the size of the robot.  May tells him that he shouldn't be here, and he asks if they've met.  Before he can continue that line of questioning, the Six Men of Sinistry attack!

The Goblin notices his son there, and Miguel leaps into action, fretting that they don't have time for the distraction.  The Goblin tries to engage in banter, but Miguel slices his throat.  Miguel tells him that he'll bleed to death in two minutes.  However, he exposits to us that he deliberately missed the Goblin's throat, though he'll still bleed a lot.  He hopes that it'll convey the threat that he poses and encourage the Six to flee.  To underscore the point, Miguel tells him that he'll kill them if they don't flee and suggests that anyone with a problem with that leaves.  Mysterio promptly does so while Lady Spider engages Doc Ock.  Miguel attacks the Vulture, who distracts him so that Electro can zap him.  Miguel goes flying through a window, straight into Kraven's flying ship.  Kraven brags that the windshield is impenetrable and prepares to select a weapon to use on Miguel, but Miguel successfully punches his way through the windshield.  Inside, Doc Ock lands a punch on May, hurling her into the ground near the robot's head.  May hides behind it as Electro unleashes bolts of electricity at her.  Dock Ock, Electro, and the Vulture convene in front of the head, with one of them announcing that the Goblin had escaped.  As they're ready to attack, the eyes of the robot illuminate, and, suddenly, two fists pound Electro and the Vulture.  Doc Ock tries to rally them, but Miguel opens fire on him from the ship.

Miguel lands and asks May for a status report.  They confirm that they've defeated the team, though Miguel wants to make sure that Doc Ock is unconscious.  In inspecting the body, he expresses shock and tells May to find a lead container.  Later, Miguel exposits that the Six's first-rate technology enables May to rebuild the robot.  Moreover, Doc Ock had a radioactive power-center for his arms (hence the lead box) and would've been dead of cancer in another year or so because he didn't have the box properly lined.  May inspects her work and asks where Lord Osborn went.  Miguel notes that he probably left when he realized that his life was threatened, and May tells him to be nice.  Speaking of the devil, Harold knocks on his father's door.  His father tells him to leave, but Harold insists, barging open the door.  He discovers his father in his Goblin outfit, and his father coldly shoots him.  Miguel and May depart on the robot, and May wonders aloud where Harold will take her to dinner.

The Review
David does a great job of keeping Miguel and May at the center of this issue.  It doesn't spiral into chaos like many of the other "Spider-Verse" tie-in issues have, with too many characters passing through the pages for them to have any real impact.  Instead, David is able to focus only on two characters here, and it's a better story for it.  We see May's horror at the destruction in the "Safe Zone" and Miguel grappling with his feelings of inadequacy as he's exhausted everything he brought to the table with Daemos' autopsy now completed.  In other words, they both feel vulnerable in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.  Given that the other "Spider-Verse" issues have had to do too much to explore the emotional impact of the stories that they're telling, David becomes really the only author to give "Spider-Verse" some sort of emotional grounding.

The Good
1) I loved Miguel cutting the Goblin's throat in the middle of his tirade.  People may argue with me on this point, but I always find steam-punk stories to be based on a certain innocence, since it implies that technology -- particularly technology capable of destruction on a massive scale -- doesn't actually cause large-scale damage to society.  (In other words, Doc Ock uses radiation to power his arms, but doesn't build a bomb from it.)  You can still have a quiet Old West kind of town, even if it's people move around that town on steam-powered hovercrafts.  Conversely, futuristic stories are almost always based on a similar cynicism, where technology was essentially destined to ruin the world where it's developed.  David throws those worlds together here, with the Goblin bombastically threatening everyone as if he has plenty of time to do so and Miguel, ahem, cutting right to the point.

2) The Six Men of Sinistry!  Loved it.  Miguel never saw the Sinister Six develop in his time, so I love that he got to fight one on May's world.  But, in typical David fashion, the Six Men aren't just there to be fun.  They're all masters of various forms of technology, and the raw material of their equipment provides May with the ability to reconstruct the robot.  In other words, the Stadium doesn't just conveniently have all the equipment that May needs; she and Miguel have to work for it.  No one works on a story on multiple levels like David, and this fight with the Six Men is an amazing example of that.

3) The art is really, really great.  The Six Men of Sinistry are just so amazingly well done.  Sliney needs to get himself on a steampunk comic fast.

The Unknown
1) We've now heard a few times that the Inheritors are especially vulnerable to radiation.  Silk first realized it in "Amazing Spider-Man" #12 when the Twins seemed more injured by the radiation on Earth-3145 than she was.  However, I'm not sure if she ever told Peter; she bails almost immediately in issue #13, once she discovers that Spider-Woman is trapped on Loomworld.  Miguel confirms here that the autopsy revealed that they are, in fact, vulnerable to radiation.  I don't remember Miguel coming to that conclusion last issue, but it at least fits.  I'll admit that I initially thought that the reason why Cindy fared better on Earth-3145 was that Spiders somehow process radiation better than the Inheritors.  But, with Miguel's comment here, it's clear that we've identified the Inheritors' one weakness, as we expected these tie-in issues would do.  We'll see where that takes us.

2) I'm glad that we returned to May's world.  I know that we're getting Silk and Spider-Gwen series, but I really hope that we don't see the last of May when "Spider-Verse" ends.  It makes me think (hope?) that she might be staying in Miguel's world (if he stays in 2099).  At the very least, I'm anxious to see her fate.

Secret Avengers #11 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First, I have to say, I think Hawkeye probably give good hugs.  He probably doesn't given them often, but, when he does, they're probably pretty great.  I could use a hug from Hawkeye right now.  It should totally be a thing.

Kot does an amazing job here.  I didn't necessarily think that Coulson had PTSD, but Kot finally confirms that he does, and he makes us believe it.  In his breakdown, Phil expresses a sentiment that I can't believe that more human characters in this world don't express, that his life is virtually meaningless to the spandex crowd and that it's really fucking hard to pull yourself together after you fall through space.  We're just so used to everyone treating these events as normal that authors rarely take the time to assess their impact, particularly on the "regular" humans who run with the superhero crowd.  Also, Maria does lie all the time, so it's not like he really knows that his employer has his back.  It's a lot.  I get it.  Hopefully the hug from Hawkeye helps.

Meanwhile, shit is going DOWN.  M.O.D.O.K. and Vladimir realize that a great "calling," not "culling," is coming, though it's still unclear what that means.  (Calling Tlon, maybe?)  Snapper kidnaps Maria Hill, and Vladimir manages to convince the Fury to heal Nick Fury in exchange for helping it find its children. (Who knew the Fury had feelings?)  Also, portals of mysterious origin ominously open above major cities.  Dun-dun-dun!

Returning to the emotional side of the house, I loved M.O.D.O.K. talking about falling in love with Maria Hill because she was a schemer like he was.  Kot sells us that moment just as well as he did Phil's, making this issue just a master class in dialogue that serves to convey emotions and not exposition.  Plus, we understand Maria a little more, since, after all, M.O.D.O.K. admitting his vulnerabilities is sort of like Maria admitting.  Also?  I love Vladimir.  I hope he stays.  He's like Jarvis combined with the Vision.

My only complaint in this issue is pet peeve #1 rearing its ugly head.  The title page says that someone rigged Phil's locker to throw acid on him, whereas I always thought that Phil rigged it to throw people off his trail.  In fact, Kot wanted us to believe that, likely until the moment when Phil asks what happened to Nick in this issue.  Reading it on the title page lessens that moment substantially.

I'm just really glad I stuck with this series.  Great stuff.

**** (four of five stars)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Earth 2: World's End #17 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

We're definitely squarely in the next phase of this series.  Wilson seems to be confirming that humanity's days on Earth 2 are numbered.  With only two million people left alive, it seems entirely plausible that Jimmy Olsen could get everyone on board that spaceship and flee to "our" Earth.  But, Wilson doesn't make it easy for them, since Barda's new task is to use Desaad's "proto-demons" to kill all the refugees.

Wilson also seems to be winnowing out the ranks for the grand finale.  The Furies are defeated, though one of them seems to have given birth to Kalibak, Darkseid's son.  However, I'm not 100 percent sure if Kalibak is indeed the same entity as the Fury's son, since her son was in theory gunning for the Parliament of the Earth at Earth's core and Kalibak appears to Barda in the tunnels instead.  But, I'm sure we'll get there.  In the meantime, Bruce and a barely revived Helena are left to heal while the powerhouses -- Kara, Lois, and Val -- head to help Jay and Kendra fight off the proto-demons.  It's becoming clear that this fight is the big one and that the ultimate fate of Earth 2 hangs in the balance.

That said, we still have some questions.  Although this war with Apokolips has been bloody, I don't entirely understand how the entire population except two million people died in it.  Though, Wilson seems to be intentionally unclear on this point; Steel notes that the people that they haven't saved "vanished."  As such, it still seems possible that Earth 2 isn't doomed, if this population suddenly appears.  (Maybe they were "lensed" by someone, put into a time/space pocket?)  We also have these mysteriously possessed ruffians active in Atom's Haven.  It seems a little late in the game to be introducing a new menace, but we'll see where we go with it.

Overall, it's a solid issue.  We've survived the era of seven or eight plots running through each issue and it's now a lot easier to get a grip on each story.  I'm again excited to see how it all ends.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman Eternal #43 (HERE BE SPOILERS)

This issue, we finally reach the moment that we saw previewed in "Batman" #28, with Batman and Bluebird busting into Catwoman's underground casino to save Spoiler.  But, the big news is that Spoiler finally reveals the mastermind behind the assault on Gotham:  Bruce Wayne!

OK, we all know that it's not Bruce Wayne, unless Snyder is telling a story where Bruce finally loses his shit and develops multiple personalities.  (Even then, it'd be pretty damn impressive that he at some point manages to tie himself to that cross as he watches Gotham burn.)  But, it seems to confirm that it was, in all likelihood, Hush. The interesting part of that revelation is that it seemingly demotes Spoiler in terms of importance.  After all, we've already established that Hush is a middle man for the mastermind, and it makes sense that he would've been coordinating Cluemaster and his team on the mastermind's behalf.  The raise in the bounty on Spoiler's head implies that the mastermind is really concerned about Spoiler revealing that information, but it's hard to see why he would be.  How would Bruce getting distracted by having to clear his name be a bad thing?  At the very least, it explains why Stephanie hasn't gone to Batman, since she knows that he gets his funding from Bruce Wayne.

So, we're left guessing.  I know part of the goal of this issue is to get us to marvel how far we've come in terms of seeing the development of the world that we glimpsed in "Batman" #28.  But, the problem is that the developments that we've seen have been haphazard and random.  We haven't spent 42 issues watching Catwoman slowly but surely establish her control over the underworld; she just decided to become its queen a few issues ago and she suddenly was.  Bluebird's development has been a little more nuanced, as we've seen her work with Red Robin.  But, we still don't know why she choose the name Bluebird or really why she wants to continue to be a superhero now that they've saved her brother.  After 43 issues, this world still seems as random as it did in issue #28.

All that said, it's still a more solid issue than we usually get in this series, particularly given that Snyder and Tynion have to connect the story to "Batman" #28.  If anything, I'm getting excited that we can only have so many more of these fake-outs before, at some point, the mastermind has to be revealed.

*** (three of five stars)

Batman #38 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

First things first, Snyder isn't drawing draw out the mystery at the heart of this arc.  All those hints about Joker existing throughout time last issue aren't just going to linger in the background for a half-dozen issues while we try to guess where Snyder's going with them.  Instead, he gets right to the point:  the Joker appears to be an immortal being, and he has Paul Dekker, a former lab partner of Dr. Death, use his blood to synthesize a virus that decays bodies as quickly as his body heals.  Lest you say, "But, Batman has sampled his blood umpteen times!" Dekker informs us that the substance -- called "dionesium" -- appears only when the body suffers catastrophic damage.  (Snyder is definitely winking at us here.  We now know how the Joker survived that helicopter crash at the end of "Batman:  A Death in the Family" and, well, every death ever.)  Everyone in Gotham suddenly has less than 24 hours to live, and Bruce has to seek out the Court of Owls to, as he says, "talk about history."  (Also, Bruce knows now that the Joker knows his identity.  We sort of just move past that point, because we really already have all four burners working.)

The fact that Snyder gets the mystery itself on the table so early implies that he has a lot planned for this arc.  It's not like "Death of the Family," where we had to spend countless issues just trying to guess whether the Joker knew his identities; in other words, we were trying to guess whether the mystery was actually a mystery.  This time, we've got everything on the table, and it's exciting.  Now, it's entirely possible that Joker isn't an immortal being.  It's not like Dekker is playing with a full deck; the Joker could've synthesized the compound on his own, injected himself with it, and then convinced Dekker that his delusional belief that this compound existed in nature was actually true.  Moreover, it's possible that he found some clever way to Photoshop himself into generations worth of photos; I mean, if he can create an immortality serum, he can probably use Photoshop well.  But, Snyder definitely seems to be staking out the territory that the Joker may actually be immortal.  I really didn't see that coming.

Moreover, we see Bruce isolated here, not because he's isolating his allies, but because they're losing hope.  Snyder's run on "Batman" has been all about his incompetence, but we see a glimmer here of the man that inspires his allies, not one that disappoints them.  Dick and Julia are overwhelmed by the power of the Joker's position.  As Dick says, Gotham has a deadly virus, the Joker is immortal, and he knows Bruce's identity.  It's not a great hand.  Sure, Bruce admits that he doesn't yet have a plan.  But, we finally have the hope that he may have one soon, because he's willing to do the unthinkable -- consult with the Court -- to get one.  That's the man that may inspire the Family to re-form (particularly if he eventually apologizes for being wrong about the Joker knowing his identity).  That's just as exciting as the mystery of the Joker's "immortality."  I'd be pretty happy if we end this arc with a competent Bruce and intact family...assuming, you know, everyone survives.


**** (four of five stars)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Loki: Agent of Asgard #10 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Holy fucking crap.

First, this issue establishes the new status quo for Loki and Thor as the people that they are after the events of "Original Sin" and "Avengers & X-Men:  Axis."  Thor has accepted the superiority of the new Thor (apparently in upcoming issue #4) and now calls himself Odinson.  Loki has been deeply shaken by his time unable to tell a lie and realizes that he can still no longer tell one.  He spontaneously confesses to killing Kid Loki, and an enraged Thor disowns him (after kicking his ass, breaking Gram, and dragging him to Asgard to expose his crimes to everyone).  It's an unexpected moment, in part because you think that Loki and Thor are having a brotherly moment of contemplating what they do now that they're no longer the people that they thought that they were.  Ewing plays this confusion to the hilt; I found myself reading those next few pages after Loki's confession just muttering, "no, no, no," to myself.

As you can tell from that last statement, this issue is as emotional as it comes.  Ewing makes it clear that Thor isn't just furious at Loki for lying (though he is), but that he's truly enraged by the grief that he feels over realizing that Kid Loki is dead.  In the brief flashback sequence, we see the affection and love that Thor had for Kid Loki, and you realize that he finally thought that he had the brother that he had always wanted Loki to be.  That dream is ruined here, and Ewing makes Thor's devastation over it clear.  But, equally, he makes clear Loki's horror over Thor's reaction.  This series has been all about Loki trying to find redemption for his sin.  Thor may not know that, but we do.  As such, it's all the more difficult to watch Thor not believe that Loki really is a changed man. In other words, Ewing makes you feel terribly for everyone, since they're all hurting so deeply.  Loki has been dreading this moment since his crime, and we all now see that it was as awful as he feared.

I wonder where we go from here.  I worry that it's nowhere good.

**** (four of five stars)

Legendary Star-Lord #8 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Logan had honor?  Are you fucking kidding me?  (OK, I'm jumping right in here.)

Peter and Kitty get into a fight here, after he asks her to stay in space with him.  She claims she doesn't want to date a thief; he tells her that her boy Logan wasn't exactly an angel; she gets mad.  But, she then learns that he gives all his money to orphans.  She decides that she wants to stay in space with him and become a thief like him; she decides that they should start with the Black Vortex, since his father wants it so badly.

I like this series and I like Peter and Kitty as a couple.  Humphries definitely does a good job of keeping up an "opposites attract" vibe with them:  Peter wants to be a better man for Kitty, and, as we see here, Kitty wants to walk on the wild side with him.  I'm glad that she decided to stay in space.  I'm a little worried that, at the end of the upcoming Black Vortex event, she's going to decide to return with the X-Men, so I'm going to try to enjoy them together while I can.

My only problem with this issue is that Humphries has to really force the developments.  Kitty didn't know Peter was a thief before they started holo-dating?  If she didn't respect him, why bother going through the motions of a (very, very) long-distance relationship?  They get into a huge fight over the idea that Logan was really some sort of angel?  Peter just happens to take her to an orphanage that he funds so that she can discover his "secret" and see how good he is with kids>  (Seriously, his water-gun fight with the orphans was clearly meant to induce ovary-twitching.)  Humphries is essentially forced to rush them through dating to get them in a relationship so that Kitty is with Peter at the start of the "Black Vortex Saga."  I mean, I guess you can't win every outing, but it would've been nice to see their relationship progress a little more steadily.

On the art, I like Williams in general, though I wish every had a little less of an animé feel.  It's starting to get hard to tell the difference between Peter and a golden retriever.

** (two of five stars)

Guardians of the Galaxy #23 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue is a giant ret-con.  Bendis portrays the symbiotes (a.k.a. the Klyntar) as a noble race seeking to help the galaxy.  However, some members of the tribe can become corrupted when they bond with the wrong people, creating "inferior symbiote relationships" and forgetting their connection to the collective.  They even spread "lies and half-truths" about the Klyntar's intentions.  However, the Klyntar recognize Flash as a worthy host, and they heal his symbiote and create a superior symbiote bond.  Now healed, Flash and his symbiote are, in his words, a "super-powered space warrior" with new powers.  The thing is?  It totally works for me.  It's not like Bendis is just throwing away continuity.  He gives us a perfectly reasonable explanation for the symbiote's previous behavior, and he allows Flash to upgrade in a way that he desperately deserves.  It's time for him to get some wins, and this issue seems to put him on a path to that.  I hope he stays with the team for a long time, because I really think that he and Drax could be an awesome pair.  (Overall, the team's banter was better than it's been in a while.  I particularly liked Gamora's "I'm complicated" comment.)  In other words, I dig a ret-con.  Go figure.

**** (four of five stars)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

All-New X-Men #35 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

OK, I haven't really enjoyed this arc, but this issue is fun, mainly because the kids in it actually have fun.  The problem with this cross-over event is that it has covered the same ground that this series usually covers:  displacement (in space and not time, this time).  The challenges that the characters face aren't really all that unique.  Sure, this issue gave us a little more insight into Laura, displaced for the first time and distraught over the fact that she's always confronted by realities that cause her to lose hope, not gain it.  But, Bobby, Henry, and Jean are traveling on a familiar road by this point.  But, Bendis makes the right call in no longer drawing out the team members' search for one another.  He finally just throws everyone together and lets them be teenagers and have fun.  I mean, they're all still damaged teenagers, so it's not like they decide to ditch saving Hank and go to the mall.  But, in the process of saving Hank, they have fun, like, "New Mutants" fun.  In letting them have fun, Bendis finally lets us have some, too.

*** (three of five stars)

Spider-Woman #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

This issue suffers from the same problem as "Scarlet Spiders" #3; if you read "Amazing Spider-Man" #13 before this one -- as Marvel's own checklist tells you to do -- you know everything that happens.  You know that Jessica gets the prophecy scrolls from the Weaver and successfully teleports them to Peter.  You know that Cindy eventually feels guilty about stranding Jessica on Loomworld and decides to save her.  It leaves you no reason whatsoever to read this issue, unless you want to see Jessica engage in bathroom humor that literally includes the phrase "poop sitch."  If you hadn't read "Amazing Spider-Man" #13 before this issue, I'm not sure if it would be any better.  You'd go from Cindy discovering the underground bunker on Radiation World to her suddenly appearing on Loomworld with Spider-Gwen, with no explanation at all about the (fairly important) events of "Amazing Spider-Man" #13.  In other words, to put it mildly, skip this issue.

* (one of five stars)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spider-Verse Team-Up #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

I mentioned in my review of "Amazing Spider-Man" #13 that we hadn't seen Karn for a while.  He appears in this issue in a big way, when a group of Spiders convinces him to betray his family with the promise that he'll no longer need to feed off Spiders.  To be honest, I'm not sure how the Spiders managed to convince him of that, since they themselves have no evidence that they can actually make that happen.  We've already seen in the "Spider-Man 2099" and "Scarlet Spiders" tie-in issues that Miguel and Jennix, respectively, have failed to find an alternative food source of the Inheritors.  As a result, it seems cruel to promise Karn something that they really have absolutely no idea that they can deliver.  Are they going to constantly have to send five or six Spider-Men to him so that he can feed off them at the same time?  But, Karn's betrayal and the possibility of an alternate food source now seem to be the turning points that'll help the good guys win in "Amazing Spider-Man" #13.  In other words, you should probably buy this issue, even if you haven't bought other tie-in issues.  (You can skip the second story.  It amounts to Spider-Girl simply raging against Uncle Spider-Ben for...some reason.  She's an angsty teen?  He failed to save his family like she did?  I don't know.  It doesn't really matter.  Just read the first story.)

** (two of five stars)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Scarlet Spiders #3 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Anyone reading this issue has already had the ending spoiled for them as a result of "Amazing Spider-Man" #13.  As a result, it obviously dampens the impact of the moment -- of Ben Reilly sacrificing himself to destroy the Inheritors' ability to clone themselves -- when it comes.

That said, even if you didn't know it was coming, it's hard to know how we're supposed to feel about it when it does come.  Ben Reilly already died on "our" Earth.  This Ben Reilly wasn't particularly recognizable as our Ben Reilly, given his overly sunny disposition.  (Our Ben, after years of wandering, was a bit of a downer.)  Moreover, we didn't particularly get to know him that well, because he's just one of the multitude of Spiders participating in this event.  As such, it's hard to summon the emotional response that Costa clearly wants us to have.  One of the seemingly millions of Spider-Men died.  [Yawn.]  Can't we just go to a world where he took a different subway the day that he got recruited and bring him into the mix?

In other words, this issue really lays bare the problem at the heart of this event, that it's still unclear what sort of repercussions we're supposed to believe that it's going to have.  After all, we already know that Otto somehow appears right where he left.  Does everything wind up getting ret-conned and everyone gets sent to the moment before everything went crazy?  Does anything matter?  Even if it matters in terms of "Spider-Verse," does it matter in terms of "Secret Wars?"

Ugh.  Everything about this issue made me feel like it was the '90s again, and I can't think of a worse thing to say.  It's not Costa's fault; he does the best with the material that he's given.  But, the editorial interference feels strong here, and I'm worried what that means for the next few months.

** (two of five stars)